How I Write a Sermon Part Three


Now that I have an outline that has developed as a result of prayer and serious study, I am ready to write the first draft of my sermon.  While all of the pieces so far have taken days and have been interrupted by other demands in life, I try to write the sermon in one sitting.  If I don’t, I lose the flow of where it is headed.

Sometimes I delete entire paragraphs because I realize that they don’t fit with the theme. Sometimes I am inspired by illustrations that come to mind, or current events. I like to think of the sermon as a structure. The illustrations are windows that let us see within the structure.

It is also very helpful to not make all of the illustrations about church. I try to keep in mind that many of the listeners spend 167 hours outside of the church and one inside. The illustrations have to have something to do with where they live.

That is what it is so important that the preacher be a part of the community to which she preaches. Some wise old pastor said, “The preacher should drink out of them same well as the members of  his church,”  It is harder for me to preach to a group of strangers, Invariably those sermons are more generic and less personal and less helpful.

After I finish a first draft, usually on Wednesday, I let it sit for a day. Then I read it as a whole and get a sense of what it needs to be a stronger message.  My re-wires are usually not an entire new script. They are just changes made in parts that need improvement. I try to remember that the sermon is a spoken medium instead of a written one.  A sermon can read well, but not sound the same. Early in my career, I would go to the church on Saturday night and practice preach my sermon to an empty sanctuary. I don’t do that anymore. I just preach it to myself in my office. This has led to more than one person expressing concern. “The pastor is in his office talking to himself.”

It is important to be heard. I try to “play to the back pew” even when there is a sound system working. I let the tech people adjust to my voice rather than the other way around. It is important to be clear with you words. Whispering for effect works sometimes, but usually leaves people asking, “What did he say?”

I love to come back to some point made earlier in the sermon as I near the finish. That seems to give the sermon continuity. Sometimes I like to end the sermon with a question, or an unfinished statement. Let the congregation do some of the work of interpretation.

Well, that’s how I do it. But I always tell student pastors to find their own style. Don’t try to preach like Fred Craddock or James Forbes or Tom Long or even Rick Sweeney. Be yourself. Don’t develop a “pulpit voice” It will just sound phony, believe me. And don’t be afraid to be creative. Try different styles. Do some story telling. Walk away from the pulpit when you think that will help deliver a point in the sermon. Don’t read your sermon.  It is OK to take notes into the pulpit, but if you just read it, the congregation will miss eye contact with you and feel like you were not really talking to them.

Part of preaching is a science that you must learn from experience. And some of it is a gift that God has given you. Don’t waste the gift by failing to do the work.


The little boy asked his mom if all of the angels are women. The mom says, “No dear, why do you ask?” The little boy said, ‘Well in the pictures none of the angels have beards.” And mom answered, “That’s because all of the men in heaven got there by a close shave.”